Nissan also said that construction of its advanced lithium-ion battery plant, will begin this April. The facility will have a production capacity of 60,000 units a year and will start manufacturing batteries in 2012 for both Nissan and its Alliance partner Renault.

The production of Leaf and the batteries represents a total investment of more than GBP420m in the Sunderland Plant and is expected to maintain about 2,250 jobs at Nissan and across the UK supply chain.

The investment will be supported by a GBP20.7m Grant for Business Investment (GBI) from the UK government and a proposed finance package from the European Investment Bank of up to GBP197.3m.

Production of Nissan Leaf will begin in Oppama, Japan later this year followed by Smyrna, Tennessee, US in 2012. Sunderland will come on-line in early 2013 with an initial annual production capacity of about 50,000 units.

The three production sites will support the sales launch of the model, which begins in late 2010 in Japan, the US and selected European markets, ahead of global mass marketing from 2012.

Work to integrate Nissan Leaf into Sunderland’s manufacturing process will begin in 2012. The car will be launched on the plant’s ‘Number 2’ production line alongside the recently unveiled Juke compact crossover car, which enters production in August 2010.

Nissan will continue to work in partnership with local and national government in preparation for the UK sales launch of Nissan Leaf in early 2011.

Andy Palmer, senior vice president of Nissan Motor, said: “The world is at the dawn of a new era in automotive transport. Nissan Leaf, which will go on sale later this year, is a five-seater hatchback that offers the same space, practicality and performance of a similar car in its class – minus the tailpipe emissions.

“Thanks to the UK’s firm commitment to a low carbon future in terms of infrastructure, customer incentives and educational programs, Nissan Leaf will be built at Sunderland, making the UK the third country in the world to produce this revolutionary car.”